The commoditisation of influencers and celebrities comes with risk and unpredictability, resulting in brands looking to anime brand ambassadors instead for their easy availability and universal appeal, says dentsu’s Robin Lau.
Anime collabs in 2023 are more than just about leveraging these popular intellectual properties (IPs) to create new products and experiences. Major brands all over the world are opting to turn anime characters into brand ambassadors for their campaigns instead of celebrities and influencers.
Commoditisation of influencers and celebrities
In many markets around Asia, influencer and celebrity marketing has become highly commoditised, with content creators positioning themselves as mini-content studios and rate-cards becoming a norm of the industry – a departure from their counterparts in the US where it leans into more of a collaborative, sponsorship or PR style of working.
And while this is great for brands – having a structured way of working with influencers means being able to plan budgets and track ROI – it also comes with very heavy risks and the unpredictability associated with public personalities. Combined with the rise of cancel culture and de-influencing, this has become a slippery slope for brands to navigate.
As a result, we are now seeing influencer and celebrity marketing taking more of an amplification role as part of the marketing mix (much like paid media ads) and, at times, a more polished version of user generated content (i.e. creator generated content).
Anime as part of the changing consumer landscape
It’s no secret that anime has become one of the most popular genres of content, brought about by the perfect storm created during pandemic life. Predominantly, the surge in appetite for entertainment and digital content – fed by the global mass adoption of streaming services – has made anime available to essentially anyone with internet access.
However, this is not a matter of availability alone; we’ve also seen a shift in the way consumers view themselves as individuals. Becoming increasingly sceptical of brands, consumers no longer allow their personalities to be moulded by what a brand deems ‘aspirational’ and are instead taking control, picking and choosing what passions and interests they want as part of their personal identity. And ultimately, common interest is a key pillar of communities and bringing people together. In turn, the most consumer-focused brands in the world are recognising that they need to earn a place among these communities and that the anime community is one of the biggest and most universal consumer segments.
Anime brand ambassadors becoming the global norm
Brands that look externally for ambassadors are ultimately seeking out a specific set of criteria – recognisable and iconic, relatable and most importantly brand-safe, and with today’s youth being the most extreme evolution of the digital native, the answer lies in “what are they watching these days and why do they love it?”
While using anime characters as brand ambassadors has been the norm in countries like Japan, China and Taiwan, it is quickly becoming the latest trend among global brands and has been widely accepted across the world. They easily fulfil all the criteria of the perfect brand ambassador and consumers don’t just identify with the characters but also the stories, feelings, emotions and, at times, nostalgia they are associated with.
Here in Asia Pacific, while brand ambassadorship may not be as direct as Naruto holding a bottle of Coca-Cola on a billboard or Luffy doing a product review (at least not yet), it is today very much focused on creating awareness and conveying brand ideals.
Key considerations for anime collabs and brand ambassadorship
For many brands looking to explore integrating anime and manga as part of their brand communications, picking which titles and characters to work with can be a daunting task. It is easy to default to a data-driven methodology, much like the way we assess influencers and celebrities, by essentially analysing the demographics of who their audiences are.
But because anime is one of the most widely appreciated forms of entertainment, a single title can appeal to multiple audience groups who appreciate it for different reasons. For example, characters such as Crayon Shin have nostalgic appeal for millennials and are popular with kids who have seen him on free-to-air television.
Thus, we need to look beyond the data and consider other factors encompassing title, brand and consumer relationships.
- Thematic match – Essentially a vibe check of both outwardly apparent factors like visual aesthetics, music and genre, as well as more intrinsic aspects such as story themes, character motivations and feelings associated with the various titles.
- Value add opportunities – Practising a customer-first mindset of “how can my brand working with this title bring something new to both its fandom and my customer base?”
- Regional competition and first-mover advantage – Not only checking if any of your competitors have done something with the same title but more importantly, if they have done it in the same target markets, as anime licences are often separated by region.
Examples from APAC
A few very notable examples around the region include:
- Doraemon bringing the spirit of kindness, innovation and hopes for a better world to Uniqlo’s sustainability
- The likeness of Sailormoon portraying glamour, beauty and the transformational power of makeup in shu uemura’s Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal Collection, not only tapping into iconic nostalgia but also celebrating the heroine’s 30th
- Flying Pikachu bringing the spirit of adventure and air travel as part of Scoot’sPokemon Air Adventures inflight experience. Pikachu was also the centre of the campaign’s onground celebration at the flagship Pokemon Centre in Changi Jewel.
As the global popularity of anime continues to grow and become more mainstream, brands, particularly those that want to target younger audiences or fandom communities, are starting to consider anime and character collaborations as a more brand-safe alternative to celebrity and influencer ambassadorship.
When working with anime titles, brands need to think beyond data and demographics and consider more intrinsic factors surrounding these titles, ultimately with the goal of bringing new value to not only their own customer base but to the fandom within the anime community.